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Listener No 4543: Migratory Birds by Malva

Posted by Dave Hennings on 15 March 2019

Ah, it’s nature week again with Malva (formerly Dipper). Last year’s puzzle was based around alternative names for birds. This week gave us the shortest preamble for a very long time, and just explained what we had to do once the grid was filled — highlight three muddled birds.

As I read through the across clues, I marvelled at Malva’s ability to incorporate a bird in each one. However, my solving was not so marvellous, and after 7 or 8 across clues, I decided to try some downs. No luck!

I then wondered if the birds were just extra words that needed to be removed before clues could be solved. Going back to 1ac, that idea failed to fly — pardon the pun! Finally getting my brain into gear, 15ac Elegise nandoos creatively in cast iron (12) seemed to be a likely anagram, but just a couple of letters too many. “SPIEGELEISEN”, I said out loud, but not until I’d read “spiegeleisen” in Mrs B under iron! I must admit that I didn’t really expect to find that there. Disentangling elegise from it, I found that the clue should have read Elegise snipe creatively in cast iron (12), the snipe coming from 8dn.

How cunning, and how obvious from the title! So, for the next couple of hours (actually, a bit more, I think) all these birds had to migrate to different clues before they could be solved. Very enjoyable. My favourite clue, primarily because of its novelty, was 9dn. Once the heron and been replaced by the kokako, we had Idiot putting any odd bit of kokako under beetle (4) — DOR + (K(okako) or (ko)K(ako) or (koka)K(o))!

Finding the three birds in the grid that were muddled was relatively straightforward, helped by the preamble: “each 5 letters, in a vertical line.” CRAKE was the first to pop up, in column 11. TEREK took a bit of time (column 6), followed by VIREO (column 4).

Thanks, Malva, for a nicely thematic and entertaining puzzle.


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Listener No 4542: Have Fun, It’s Wordy by Kea

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 March 2019

Not much to say this week. You no doubt remember Kea’s previous puzzle (no. 4500 What Have We Come to?) and may even remember his first mathematical (no. 4164 4164). Here we had to find numbers, write them in their wordy form, add the values of the distinct letters as digits and finally squidge some numbers into the grid. I’ll leave it for others to reveal what numbers.

All in all, quirky, straightforward, entertaining… and a week off for the brain after eXtent’s tour de force the week before. Thanks, Kea.

Your homework: Is there a number whose distinct letters as digits sum to the number itself? If so, what is it?

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Have Fun, It’s Wordy by Kea

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 March 2019

I suspect Kea is being somewhat cynical in his title, knowing that a number of regular solvers consider these three-monthly numerical crosswords to be the reverse of fun. We puzzled over the rather obscure (at least we thought so) pre-ramble for some time without understanding what we were entering at A and n. The other Numpty then decided that the only possibilities for A were 11 or 12, which would give us 53 or 82 at n, and he disappeared to create a searchable programme in BASIC to give us 10 to 999 with the total number of letters in each case, and the alpha-numeric equivalents of distinct letter totals. We still bungled along for a few hours, repeatedly confusing which numbers went into which cells (and not finding a trace of alcohol in the grid – Oh dear Kea!) – but we got there.

A friend commented that he had been able to work out a logical path and he very kindly sent it to me so enough of our computer-aided bungling. Here’s how we should have done it:

Have Fun, It’s Wordy by Kea

Note that if you know an entry, you can immediately compute its value and the length.  Whether it’s fun or not is debatable😊.                                                                                                                                                                                   

The only 2-digit numbers whose spellings have 6 letters are 11, 12, 20, 30, 80 and 90. A cannot end in 0 so is either 11 or 12.  If A = 12, then n = T+W+E+L+V = 82 and G = E+I+G+H+T+Y+W+O = 112 which is too big.  (That is the last time I will show the letter addition!)  So A = 11, n = 53, G = 91, d = 88, F = 74.

h = 4xy.  Any possibility other than 400 would be spelled FOUR HUNDRED AND <something> which is more than 14 letters.  So h = 400.

M is then spelled <h> HUNDRED AND <y> where <y> is from 10, 20, 30, …  and <h> and <y> use eight letters.  H+U+N+D+R+E = 71.  The additional letters in <h> and <y> must sum to 20.  The only possibility that works is M = 310.   (maybe you can figure out a better explanantion).

p is 31, 32, or 36; D is then 114, 118 or 123.  Only p = 32, D = 118 work with d = 88.  From D, M-H=122, so H = 188, E = 147, f = 178.

g = 41x and only g = 417 has 23 letters,

K = 5×7 and must be 527, 537, 587 or 597 to have 25 letters.  Those numbers have values 195, 172, 179 and 172 respectively.  d+G = 179, so K = 587.

k = 18x and is a multiple of A=11 from clue C, so k = 187. 

c = x17 and must be 117, 217 or 617 to have 22 letters, with respective values 147, 170 or 165.   Since E = 147, c = 117.

N = 7×2 and must be 742, 752 or 762 to have 23 letters, with respective values 201, 210 or 228.  Since B ends in 1, N = 742, B = 201, e = 129.   B-b = d+G = 179, so b=22.

C = 1×2 and has 23 letters; only C = 172 works.  a = 171.

m = 81x and must be 815 or 816 to have 22 letters, with respective values 113 and 150.  C – b =150, so m = 816.

Finally P = 6x and must be 63, 67 or 68 to have 10 letters, with respective values 128, 138 and 117. c = 117, so P = 68.

‘nuf said, thank you, Kea.

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L4542: ‘Have Fun, It’s Wordy’ by Kea

Posted by Encota on 8 March 2019

2019-02-16 12.21.50 copy

If you were a setter (or editor) trying to encourage some of the ‘I-only-solve-48-out-of-52’ Listener solvers – you know the ones (and it may well be you!), those who see the four numericals each year and suddenly decide that they are really busy that day, the front door step really does need sweeping etc – to try a numerical, then what Title might you give a Listener Numerical to encourage the more word-oriented solvers to have a go?  Clearly the answer is: “Have Fun, It’s Wordy“, as Kea has chosen for this week’s puzzle.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, I always love it when the puzzle number plays some part in the overall story.  Here the puzzle’s number 4542 is used as the example in the preamble which, when spelt out with repeated letters suppressed, gives FOURTHSANDIVEYW.  Which, naturally, is a jumble of HAVE FUN, IT’S WORDY.  Delightful – who needs the puzzle itself after that level of elegance – thanks Kea!!

I think in the past I have identified up to seven different levels of ‘assist’ one can have in Numericals.  Today I’ll pick on three and then focus on one, the use of Excel to help with solving.  Most people have access to Excel on one machine somewhere or other – especially those people who read blogs.  So, the three levels:

  1. Pure pencil and paper only
  2. Assist using a spreadsheet program – hereafter known as Excel 😉
  3. Custom coding.  Nowadays this is often in Python, though C, BASIC and many others are often used, too.  This is normally a fairly accurate test of the coder’s age: I use C, for example (but only when pushed!).  And anyone this week loading their program serially on paper tape into an Elliott 703 computer, then do leave me a Comment 🙂

For those who like type (1) then this week you’ll have been in for a treat, as the puzzle is reasonably solvable by this means.  Spotting that at least nine of the 3-digit entries are used as the arithmetic expression for other letters (in clues B, C, D, E, H and c, e, f plus, by inference, k) is useful.  Also noting that, what with the letters BCJKMPQZ not being used in appropriately-sized word-based answers (after all, for example, no ZILLIONS are featured 😉 ) then the max total of all remaining letters is <= 253 and thus all such 3-digit entries at B, C, D, E, H etc must begin with a 1 or a 2.  G and H both appearing multiple times as – or in – arithmetic expressions helps a lot, too.  And, given its length of (6) [and that a (down) cannot begin with a 0], A can immediately be narrowed down to either 11 or 12, with its associated ‘n’ being either 53 or 82.  In good, traditional fashion I will leave the rest as an exercise for the reader 🙂

For those of you already using type (3), then you’ll most likely already know more than me on the subject, so I will move on very quickly …

So, today – Excel!  A program almost too powerful for its own good, the basic user barely gets beyond adding and multiplying, with a bit of formatting to make the output look more readable.  [And, if an accountant or analyst, there will be numerous cases of calculating Ratios, as I’ve heard that an accountant’s life isn’t complete without Ratios:  Pens per Employee, P/E ratios etc.  I digress …]

Useful functions.  Intro: if you rarely or never use functions, don’t be frightened.  Select a cell in a new Excel workbook, type in an = sign followed immediately by the start of the function name.  A selection will appear.  Click/ double-click on the one you want, then fill out the brackets with the items prompted, often by clicking in other cells to select them, and then close with a final bracket and press return.

Things I used (or could have used) in my Excel solving route for L4542:

  • =VLOOKUP().  Very useful if you want to select a value associated with, say, a letter.  I had a table with:
    A  1
    D 4
    etc. in it, in adjacent cells.  Using the whole table as part of the input meant that calculating sums of letter values was easy.
  • =CODE().  This useful function returns the ASCII value of a character in a chosen cell.  If that sounds like gobbledy-gook then, yes, it is.  However, if you take 96 away from the answer for lower-case answers, or 64 for upper-case answers, then you get L4542’s ‘value’ of each letter.  Try it!  Type the letter T in cell A12, then ‘=CODE(A12)-64’ (ignoring the quote marks) in cell A13.  Repeat as required.  Easy!
  • the $ sign in a formula.  Apologies for those to whom this is obvious – but I have seen grown men(!) struggle with this!  I read the $ sign as a ‘stick’ sign.
    If you put, say, ’10’ in cell A1 and ‘=2*A1’ in cell B1, then the value displayed in B1 will of course be 20.  If you now copy that formula into C1 by the click&dragging of its bottom right small square, Excel will be ‘clever’ and assume you wanted C1’s contents to equal 2*B1.  But what if you wanted it to be 2*A1 still (for some reason)?  Then in B1 change its formula to ‘=2*$A1’ and press return, then click&drag that into C1 and you’ll have what you want, it will ‘stick’ with A.  Now use this to create a simple Times Table Square, with say 1 to 10 along the top and the side, where each content uses something like ‘=$A2*B$1’.  when you drag this formula into other cells then the A will ‘stick’ and the 1 will ‘stick’ with the other adjusting to match the position of the cell.  So a distant cell might become ‘=$A10*J$1’.  Much easier to do than describe.  Try it!  Use the built-in help (or Auntie Google) for support.
  • String handling functions. A posh way of saying dealing with words.  Sort of …
    • =CONCATENATE()  joins together all strings separated by commas in the brackets.  So if cell A1 contained the wordstring EIGHTY and A2 contained SEVEN, then the formulae (in, say, cell A3), =CONCATENATE(A1,A2), will have the value EIGHTYSEVEN.  If you wanted a space between them you could add the string containing a space =CONCATENATE(A1,” “,A2)
    • =LEN() gives the number of characters in a string.  Typing in A4, =LEN(A3), will display a value of 11 or 12, depending if you’d added the space above or not.  In solving L4542 it is probably better not to!
  • With those functions, plus the usual ‘=SUM()’, much of this puzzle can be solved much more easily.
  • Additional things you may wish to explore, if you are feeling keen:
    • Selecting a character in a string.  Try out ‘=RIGHT()‘ and similar, carefully following the syntax that Excel prompts you for.  You can use this multiple times, nesting them, if it helps.
    • Excel’s ‘Data’ menu’s Text to Columns and Remove Duplicates (i.e. duplicate rows).  To try the latter, type the characters N, I, N, E, T, Y in six adjacent cells in a column.  Select them all and press Remove Duplicates on the Data menu. It will delete any rows that are duplicates, in this case resulting in NIETY in a column.  Combining that with CODE or VLOOKUP in the adjacent column and summing the results is one way of getting a spelt-out total for a word.
    • Conditional Formatting on the Home menu.  If you wanted to highlight all cells in the sheet containing, say, the value 24, then Select all cells (i.e. click on the triangle at top left of the sheet so all go light blue) and follow the instructions, picking a bright colour of your choice.  You can then easily scan a small spreadsheet to spot which ones are of more interest.  Again there’s no substitute for trying it!  There are of course better tools if the size of the spreadsheet is becoming significantly larger, though beyond the scope of this blog!

That’s plenty enough for one blog.  If you have any tips that you think would be useful to those who’d like to use Excel to help them solve numericals then do please post Comments.  And if this has been useful to just one solver than it has been worth writing!!


Tim / Encota

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Doing the Rounds by eXtent

Posted by shirleycurran on 1 March 2019

“What a lovely grid”, we said – “rather like Kea’s chrysanthemum last year.” The preamble wasn’t quite so lovely as it had that hated word, ‘jumbles’ in it and we didn’t really understand, initially, what we were going to do. However, within ten minutes, the other Numpty had solved all but two of the first twenty-one clues. That was extremely disconcerting as they could only be so ‘easy’ in order to give us a framework for far more difficult things to come (and how!). Still, it was a pleasure to fill a skeleton grid and see 19 words appear, clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Fitting those words (like ‘blinded’ in clue 11 matching the HOODED that circled that bit of the flower was original and most enjoyable, and, along the way, eXtent, in a rather bolshie way, confirmed his membership of the Listener oenophile elite with ‘Son and alcoholic scrap (5)’. “That’s SHARD (S + HARD)” said the other Numpty, so cheers, eXtent.

The twelve-letter entries were of quite a different nature and it was soon fairly clear that my scrappy little grid on its A4 page was nowhere near big enough to fit in all those potential letters that were going to be reduced by a laborious process of elimination so I blew my grid up to a larger size and carefully slotted up to six letters into each of the little concave triangles. The task became easier as we went along and helpful letters appeared, but still, these were tough clues and we almost had to cold solve them all to complete our grid.

Where did I expect the thematic, un-jumbled answer, ‘clued clockwise and by wordplay only’ to be. Well, in the centre of course but it didn’t leap out at us, though when TEA suggested FLOWER OF LIFE, we could back-solve to the wordplay in the clue. It was rather like that for several of those clues,like BRAINGLE’S SALT and FAMILLE VERTE – a fine balance for those easy ones in the first three sets.

It only occurred to me when finally checking my grid, that those letters on the hexagon’s points had to be identical as there was no way of distinguishing them from each other. That, of course, justified the rather obscure choice of SCIATIC NERVE, BRAINGLE’S SALT, PEARL DISEASE, and METATHEORIES. What a feat of compilation!

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